History of NAGC
Based on an article by Joseph J. Carvajal, 1977 NAGC President
Early efforts that ultimately led to the establishment of the National Association of Government Communicators began among federal communicators in Washington, D.C., shortly after World War II, at a time when government communicators faced a threat to their existence.
Just as in recent years, the public demanded after the war that the federal bureaucracy be reduced. Members of Congress found that many military and civilian operations were politically untouchable, but they found easy targets when they rediscovered a useful law the Gillett Amendment, part of the 1913 Appropriations Act for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The law was a response to a Civil Service Commission help wanted advertisement for a "publicity man" for the Bureau of Public Roads, then part of USDA. The amendment in the act stated, "Appropriated funds may not be used to pay a publicity expert unless specifically appropriated for that purpose." While this provision doesn't prohibit government public relations, it is often described as being a ban on government public relations with interpretations that government workers may not be employed in the practice of public relations. That is why many government agencies today use such titles as information officers, press office, public affairs experts, communications specialists, and press secretaries.
After World War II, some members of Congress tried to use the old act as a convenient way to reduce costs by removing public information personnel, whom they called "propagandists." Federal communicators were not organized then and were not able to effectively respond to these attacks, but top officials in federal agencies realized that public information specialists were vital to the accomplishment of their missions.
In these grim times, a small group of federal information officers began meeting for lunches at the Roger Smith Hotel in Washington to exchange survival tactics. The key player, and the person who was the real founder of NAGC, was Clifford W. Patton, then of the Federal Home Loan Bank Board. As this informal group grew, it began holding monthly luncheon meetings, attended by 40 to 50 government communicators.
The meetings became more structured and less clandestine as the "anti-propagandists" campaign in Congress abated. Members of Congress, cabinet officers, other agency officials and news media reporters and editors were even invited to speak at the monthly luncheons.
As the group, still without a name, continued to grow, the Gillett Amendment came up for discussion in Congress from time to time. One formidable case was an amendment for a 25 percent reduction in information positions in all federal agencies. This sent the no name group underground again, but it reemerged from time to time as the Congressional climate mellowed.
In 1952, some federal communicators formed the Federal Editors Association, with Katharine Beauchamp of the USDA as president. Although the no name bunch continued as a separate group, there was overlapping membership and cooperative projects. Among FEA's early achievements was creation of the Blue Pencil Publication Awards in 1964 that survives today as the NAGC's International Blue Pencil and Gold Screen Awards programs. Both competitions began accepting international entries in 1994.
When Clifford Patton retired in 1970, Mel White took over the no name group and began looking toward establishing a formal organization. In response to a questionnaire, more than 250 federal information officers in the Washington area showed interest. As a result, the Government Information Organization was launched in 1971, with White as president. White immediately started discussions with then FEA president Kenton Pattie about a possible FEA GIO merger. Efforts languished until 1975, when GIO president David Brown of the Government Printing Office and FEA president Geneva Curry of the Navy Department proposed a new organization that would be national in scope and open to communicators in state and local governments, as well as the federal government. In a referendum late in 1975, members of the GIO and FEA voted to abolish the two organizations and establish the new National Association of Government Communicators.
The NAGC began in January 1976 with David Brown as the first president. The first national communications school was held the following September and during the next year (1977), chapters were formed in Washington, D.C., and efforts were underway to form chapters in other cities.
More than three decades after the initial efforts that led to the founding of the National Association of Government Communicators, the NAGC now has members from coast to coast at all levels of government. Moreover, the NAGC is vigorous and vital, and continues to grow, both in membership and prestige as well as in its ability to speak for and work for the interest of government communications and government communicators, as well as the interests which all Americans have in honest, open and effective government communications.